• Worst ALCo Unit

  • Discussion of products from the American Locomotive Company. A web site with current Alco 251 information can be found here: Fairbanks-Morse/Alco 251.
Discussion of products from the American Locomotive Company. A web site with current Alco 251 information can be found here: Fairbanks-Morse/Alco 251.

Moderator: Alcoman

  by mxdata
I just couldn't resist! :wink: What do you consider to be the worst (or least successful, or most ugly, if you prefer) diesel locomotives ALCO built, and why?

  by MEC407
Hmmm... worst Alco... that's not an easy question to answer.

The C855 would have to be at the top of my list, purely from the standpoint of it being completely unsuccessful, and damn ugly to boot.

Alco only sold 27 RS27s, and 16 C430s -- those units weren't exactly successful, but they weren't bad units per se and certainly don't qualify for "worst" in my mind.

On the other hand, they sold over 180 C628s, but from what I've read and heard, those units had more than their fair share of problems compared to the other six-axle Centuries.

If you want to get into the MLW era, the M640 wasn't a whole lot more successful than the C855, which is unfortunate because it was really cool looking.

My money is on the C-415, with the "center" cab, and the long driveshaft running under the cab floor, to power the air compressor, and radiator fan. They might have sold a number of them, but anyone I met, who ran them, or worked on them, all said they were a very bad idea. Not quite a switcher, not quite a road unit, they appear to have been built for transfer service, but at 1500 HP, this is not much of a hauler. Severe vibrations, and driveshaft/drive coupler failures seem to have been the biggest problem, mechanically speaking. Regards :wink:

  by MEC407
I think the C415 might have been a good idea in theory, but unfortunately they didn't do the best job of implementing it. MLW's M420TR seems to have been a much better implementation of a similar concept.
  by deezlfan
To play devils advocate here, How about the 2000 HP Alco PA. The long crankshaft version of the 244 engine could not provide the reliability needed to bring Alco to a lead position in passenger locomotives and the problem soon overshadowed all Alco engines, even though the smaller engines used in the RS series did not exhibit the problem to anywhere near the same severity. The 'perceived' reliability problem even completely overshadowed the introduction of the 251 engine, never really allowing Alco to recover. GE knew what to do about the 244 problem and we know the result of the split. That said, I still would say they are my favorite Alcos.
Last edited by deezlfan on Mon Aug 15, 2005 6:22 am, edited 2 times in total.
  by MEC407
deezlfan wrote:That said, I still would say they are my favorite Alcos.
Indeed. It's difficult to hate something that pretty! :wink:
  by Allen Hazen
First, let me say how much I admire your courage in posting something negative about the (blessèd?) PA-1 on the Alco forum. (Grin!)
Second... The early 12-244 engines didn't have a GREAT reputation for reliability and maintainability, and the problems were largely ironed out before the end of RS-3 production. (I've seen suggestion tht the last versions of the 12-244 (244H?) were perhaps intrinsically about as good as the 251. (Invitiation for anyone who knows about such things to step in, here!))
Was Alco less successful in solving the 16-244's problems? Did the later 16-244, as used in the Dl-600 and Dl-600a, have serious problems?
  by deezlfan
The 12 cylinder 244 was ironed out relatively quickly and if maintained correctly, was a good engine. The problem was that the entire nation was trying to dieselize and Alco was the second place builder. With most RRs sampling locomotives from 3 and sometimes 4 different builders, improper maintainance was the real cause of most engine failures, not the design. Naturally, if the majority diesel on the road was an EMD, when an Alco or Fairbanks Morse showed up, they were "different" and perceived as harder to maintain. [Honestly, changing a fuel filter can't be much different between the differing brands could it?] [Yes, I know about the problems fixing power assemblies in an FM.] This could only work against Alco and the others. On the D&H, Alco was the only diesel supplier until the U-boat showed up. There, the maintainance crews knew the engine and obtained the intended performance from the 12-244. [And, I read somewhere that the costs were almost the same as EMDs on other RRs.] Remember that Alco marine engines had a very good following in a situation were there was someone aboard trained to maintain them. GE was also a contributor to the problem of reliability. Their air cooled turbo failed often enough that Alco was required to design their own water cooled design. Selling update kits for older engines while you were trying to sell new locomotives must have been a real nightmare for the Alco sales staff.

Apparently, the 16-244 was marginal at best. Failure to provide correct alignment between the block and crank would result in a very expensive failure. Then, repair was exceedingly difficult and labor intensive. On the SP and ATSF, the PAs were quickly reduced to the secondary routes and retired as soon as possible. EMD E units continued 'til the death of private passenger service and beyond. [This could also be because a E unit was a bonanza of parts for the shop crews, since EMDs had such parts interchangablity.] I don't know about the 16-244 in those freight locomotives, but I would assume they were not very good. After all, they aren't present at the current Alco strongholds like GVT or A&M.

  by mxdata
Allen and Deezlfan, among your last group of postings you have hit many of the critical elements of ALCO's postwar diesel development dilema, as described to me over the years by several former ALCO employees. Several critical design decisions in the development of the 244 engine, some of which were contrary to recommendations of a few of their own experienced engine designers, had significant consequences in the performance and reliability of the engine. The retrofits to the 244 also had a substantial effect on warranty expenses and the need for product technical support. The adoption of the GE air-cooled turbocharger and the decision to use a tongue and groove joint on the main bearing caps of the early models of the 244 were probably the most significant contributors to the failures in the field. ALCO got the situation ironed out over time, but the problems definitely had some effect with the customers.

Deezlfan's nomination of the PA is indeed daring! I might be tempted to nominate the PA also, but I think the disasterous demonstration experience of the 1945 241 engine demonstrators 1500A-B-C probably puts them in the running too. The units, which took four years to develop, were shipped from the plant in great haste and various states of near-completion, as told to me in the 1960s by a friend who accompanied them. After fairly successful short demonstrations on the D&H and the New Haven, including some passenger service with 80 MPH gearing, the two "A" units both had major failures on the Bangor & Aroostook that caused the retirement of all three locomotives and their scrapping. The Bangor & Aroostook went to EMD for their F3's. Fortunately for ALCO, the disappointing experience with the "Black Maria" units took place in Northern Maine and was kept very quiet at the time, so it probably did not hurt them much with other potential customers.
  by deezlfan
Ah yes, who could argue there. Of course that would bring up the subject of the effects of wartime restrictions on Alco. Probably should start another thread for that one.

  by mp15ac
One of my favorite Alco "oops" stories concerns the infamous C855's. Apparently when originally construct the boys in Schenecady wired one of the two electrical cabinets in each unit (two "A"s and 1 "B") backwards. When UP sent them west on their very first run out of Omaha, the electrical cabinets exploded when they went through their first stage transition. The train had to be hauled back into Omaha.

  by MEC407
TheChessieCatLives wrote:Anybody know where I can find a picture of the C640s? This is because I looked on http://www.rr-fallenflags.org site and I didn't see one.
There was no C640; the locomotive you're thinking of is the M640, built by MLW.

  by Ol' Loco Guy
I would selected the PA, too-based upon all the damage to customer relations AND relations with GE.
On the SP and ATSF, the PAs were quickly reduced to the secondary routes and retired as soon as possible.
Categorically incorrect. Both the ATSF and SP were the beneficiaries of a GE initiated and designed upgrade program that included:

*'new' engines and wate-cooled turbos
*upgrade to Simplified Amplidyne Control scheme including re-wiring
*general carbody overhaul, repaint, etc.

The SP did their units at Sacramento and the SF performed the surgery at San Bernardino during the mid to late 50's. Note that the first ATSF A-B-A
set (Alcos' 75,000 locomotive ?) went to EMD for a set of 16-567's.

While the SP's units began leaving the roster as trade-in fodder for new GE's and Alco's by the mid 60's, the SF's roster lasted until the late 60's until traded-in to EMD-save for the (4) D&H PA's. Doing the math-sounds like the ATSF fleet lasted almost 20 years !!!!

By 1960, the NYC, SR and certainly a few more...had given up on PA's and retired their fleets.

FYI, a fellow named William Clark did an excellent great write-up on the PA's to be found in a magazine I can no longer remember the name of-circa 1978.
Rail Classics ?
Last edited by Ol' Loco Guy on Mon Aug 15, 2005 5:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.